2004 New and Once Lost Films
on West Virginia and Appalachia

February 2005

Steve Fesenmaier
Research Librarian
West Virginia Library Commission

All of Daniel Boyd’s three feature films are available at amazon.com. They should be coming out on DVD in 2005. The three film titles are Chillers (1988), Invasion of the Space Preachers (1990), and Heroes of the Heart (Paradise Park, 1996). dancingoutlaw.com will be selling all of Jacob Young’s films on DVD in December 2004.

30 – Cal Price and the Pocahontas Times 

100 mins. PatchWork Films 

Pocahontas County native musician and filmmaker Bobbie Jo Sharp Gudmundsson spent years making this portrait of Cal Price, the long time editor of the last handset newspaper in America. With the support of the Pocahontas County Free Libraries and the Pocahontas Historical Society, she has used the story of The Pocahontas Times to tell the history of Marlinton and Pocahontas County. Pinchot biographer, Char Miller, appears in the telling of the history of conservation that is interwoven with the political landscape of that time. Family members, and others who knew the “Sage of Pocahontas” such as photographer Volkmar Wentzel, provide viewers with insight into the man himself. Price was known around the country for his writing and for his support for protecting West Virginia's resources, particularly its water and its topsoil. The Cal Price State Forest, located in Pocahontas County, is one monument to his unique determination to protect the land for future generations. Music by John Lilly, Dwight Diller, Oscar Brand.  Access : Orders may be placed through PatchWork Films, 304-645-4998.


A. James Manchin – The Final Accounting
28 mins. 1991  WVPBS
A. James Manchin was forced to resign as State Treasurer after his office lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Manchin recently passed away, and the public response was overwhelming. Manchin was famous for fighting outsider stereotypes of his beloved West Virginia, even traveling to New York City to protest. He was a colorful politician who could be compared to William Jennings Bryan. This is Nakashima’s second portrait of West Virginia’s most debated politician. He made an earlier one in 1988, A. James Manchin: Your Public Servant.  Access: West Virginia Library Commission.


The Abby Spirit

30 mins. 2004 Real Earth Productions

Abby Wathen grew up in Eastern Kentucky. While a teenager she discovered that she had a rare disease—reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). Her parents visited scores of doctors and hospitals, unable to find help for their daughter. Finally they found a treatment in Texas that used magnets to relieve the pain. Abby is now a rising model and actress in New York City, thankful to have survived one of modern medicine’s least understood conditions. Photos of some of her national ads, a clip from a national TV series, and clips from her indie films are included.  Access: Real Earth Productions, http://www.realearthproductions.com/.


Angel City

95  mins.  1980

Ralph Waite plays the head of a West Virginia family that heads south to Florida to find work in a migrant labor camp. The film co-stars Paul Winfield as a fellow camp prisoner who is willing to help Waite fight for his dignity. Jennifer Warren and a young Jennifer Jason Leigh play members of Waite’s family. Philip Leacock, a well-known Hollywood director, made this film.  Access:  Amazon and other video sources.


The Appalachians – series

180 mins.  2005  Evening Star Productions

Mari-Lynn Evans, executive producer, was born and raised in Bulltown, Braxton County, West Virginia. After more than two decades producing hundreds of health and other films, she returns home to her beloved Appalachia. The four parts are 1. First Frontier, Pre-History – 1870 – Native Americans, European pioneers, Civil War; 2. Barons, Feuds & White Lightening, 1871-1929 – feuds, timber and coal, labor wars, moonshine and roaring 1920s; 3. Boom & Bust, 1929-1965 – Great Depression, WWII, migration in 1950s, War on Poverty; 4. Memories in a Modern World, 1965-present – legacy, music, land in conflict (MTR), people and future of Appalachia. The Sierra Club, a sponsor, has built a good website for the series – http://www.sierraclub.org/appalachia. Random House published a book in conjunction with the series, edited by Ms. Evans, The Appalachians.  Access: PBS Store after national showing in April 2005.


Appalachian Trail Videos

One of the most famous places connected to Appalachia is the Appalachian Trail. Outdoorsman Lynn Weldon has made several very interesting films about it. He first directed Five Million Steps, (available from West Virginia Library Commission) using 14 different hikers in each of the 14 states it goes through. He has also made Amazing Grace, a film about the blind hiker Bill Irvin who walked all 2,143 miles with his seeing-eye dog. The 20-minute film includes footage censored by a publisher from a book on the subject. He has also made the 5-hour epic, How To Hike The Appalachian Trail, showing anyone exactly what needs to be done to prepare for the journey. Weldon has made other hiking videos about other routes and techniques.  Access: http://www.lwgear.com/.



6 mins.  2004  Charles Cline

Chosen as "best film of the West Virginia Filmmakers Film Festival 2004," this whimsical silent film turns cinema history on its ear, mixing imagined scenes from the earliest movies with Alice in Wonderland-type characters.  They end up chasing each other from scene to scene, creating a retro-Harold Lloyd-type world. A masterpiece that should win many awards and find a national audience.  Access: Kevin Carpenter, Email -elkhotel@elkhotel.com.


Ashes to Glory – DVD

2000 (2003)  WVPBS

Deborah Novak, a native of Huntington, and her partner, John Witek, have released an expanded version of their 2000 documentary on Marshall University’s recovery from the worst sports disaster in history. 


On the DVD, we have the original two-hour version of the documentary, plus four bonus features:

1. Huntington and Marshall in 1970 – This video offers rare archival footage of the city and the campus in the 1970s, and shows a variety of vanished landmarks.

2. The Making of Ashes to Glory – a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the PBS documentary. Featuring never-before-seen footage, highlights include interviews with Chad Pennington, Nate Ruffin, and Coach Jack Lengyel that didn't appear in the original program. The video follows the story of the project right up to the premiere at the Keith-Albee Theatre—and also includes the Emmy Awards ceremony.

3. The 1970 Marshall University Thundering Herd – a tribute to the football players who died in the plane crash. Utilizing 3-D graphic effects, it incorporates a photograph of every player who made the trip to East Carolina, intercut with footage of the last game they played.

4. The Young Thundering Herd – The fourth new video is a salute to the 1971 team—the courageous players who carried on the tradition of Marshall football. Charting their victory over a powerful Bowling Green team, it presents rarely seen coaches film of a great victory.  Access: http://www.herdnation.com.


The Biography of Gwen Clingman

45 mins.  2003  

This is the passionate story of the late Gwen Clingman who was known far a wide as the proprietor of Gwen’s Kitchen in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Gwen and her husband, Garland, opened Clingman’s Market on Lewisburg’s Main Street in 1945.  In a small room in the back of their popular store, Gwen set up a kitchen and began to cook lunches for noontime customers. Her philosophy was that “everyone should be able to afford at least one decent meal a day.” For more than 50 years she dished out home-cooked meals to college students, businessmen, and shoppers. Gwen passed away in 2003, shortly after the completion of the film, but The Shepherd Center of Greenbrier Valley continues her tradition through the delivery of Gwen’s Meals to the elderly in the community. Written and narrated by Joan Browning, produced by Gary Aide of Ronceverte, West Virginia.  Access: PatchWork Films, http://www.patchworkfilms.com/index2.htm.


Burning Annie

100 mins.  2003 

Marshall grad Van Flesher had his directorial debut with this film, shot in Huntington, West Virginia. Gary Lundy, who acted in Donnie Darko, one of the most unusual recent films, is the star.  Website at http://www.burningannie.com/.  Access: none at this time. Still showing at major film festivals.


The Captives

58 mins.  Jude’s True Blue Productions

Roane County teacher Judy Miller responded to the 9/11 Disaster with this film. She wrote, produced, and co-directed the film after raising $50,000. Filmed entirely inside West Virginia, she tells the famous story of Mary Draper Ingles—how she is captured, survives, and finally escapes her Indian captors to return to her home in eastern Virginia. The film had its world premiere at the oldest continuous movie theater in the US—The Robey Theater in Spencer, Roane County, West Virginia.  Access: Jude’s True Blue Productions, (304) 927-4793, flapjack@wvadventures.net.


Cliff-Scaling Soldiers of West Virginia

50 mins.  2004  Augusta Heritage Center

Robert Whetsell, author of Metropolis Revisited: The History of Elkins, and Gerry Milnes produced this film about more than 50,000 US soldiers who trained at Seneca Rocks for mountain fighting in Italy. They came to West Virginia between 1943 and 1944.  Access: The Augusta Heritage Center, the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center, or from Rob Whetsell, $26.15  202 15th St., Elkins, West Virginia 26241.


Cloud Over Bhopal

52 mins.  2001  Transglobe Films

A film version of French writer Dominique Lapierre’s book, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World’s Deadliest Industrial Disaster. The film was made by a Spanish company in 2001. Lapierre summarizes the aims of the film with two points: 1. 150,000 people, including a second and third generation of victims, are still suffering, receiving minimal medical treatment; 2. People should be warned about the possibility of another such disaster happening somewhere else. He flies to South Charleston to investigate the effects this disaster and smaller local ones had on Kanawha County residents. Includes a clip of a well-known Indian feature film, Bhopal Express. See Appalshop’s film, Chemical Valley, about the links between this disaster and Kanawha County, location of its sister plant.  Access: Transglobe Films.


Communication from Weber

14 mins.  Omni Systems

West Virginia filmmaker Robert F. Gates and Lynn Wyatt, a local artist, filmed Albert Michael Weber, a Californian who had married a West Virginia lady—who then abandoned him in Montgomery, West Virginia. Weber eventually dies from brain cancer, and his burial is shown. Gates calls him a "derelict-politico/artist collagist/communicator." Weber was an actor in an early Roger Corman film. The film was called “the best film at the NYC Gay-Lesbian film festival” one year and toured England as part of a series. It has also won several prizes including one at the Athens International Film Festival in Athens, Ohio.  Access: Robert Gates at Omni Productions, (304) 342-2624. Available in 16 mm only.


Company Town

25 mins.  1983  16MM/VHS

Jim Rutenbeck began his professional career with this film. He now edits many of The American Experience films produced by WGBH-TV, shown nationally on PBS. His award-winning film, Raise the Dead, ends in War, McDowell County, West Virginia. The town of Widen, West Virginia (Clay County) was once a thriving coal mining community. Using interviews, photographs and old film footage, this film recounts the history of Widen and its paternal ruler, coal baron Joseph Gardner Bradley, 1882-1971. It is still considered to be one of the best film portraits of an Appalachian company coal town.  Access: Now available on VHS from Jim Rutenbeck, Lost Nation Pictures, 106 Oliver Road, Newton, MA 02468, (617) 969-6533, jrutenbeck@mindspring.com, $19.95 including public performance rights.


Dangerous Missions: Miners

50 mins.  History Channel

They work in a world filled with darkness and danger. They have kept the fires burning and the lights lit since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and extracted other precious treasures from the bowels of the earth long before that. And they have paid for the privilege in blood, with many thousands of miners dying underground from fires, floods, collapses, and deadly fumes. This film descends into the earth alongside these workers.  From the gold mines of Nevada to the Pittsburgh Seam in the Appalachians, we’ll meet the men and watch the giant machines that extract the earth’s bounty. Survivors from the notorious Farmington, West Virginia Disaster of 1968, which killed 78 men, forever entombing 19 of them, talk about the effects.  To those who lost their loved ones, some small comfort is taken from the fact that this tragedy finally led to the passage of stricter safety laws for miners.  Access: History Channel Store, http://store.aetv.com/html/home/index.jhtml.


Dark Harvest

88 mins.  2003  Lions Gates Distributors

Richmond, Virginia producer Paul N. Moore and director Paul Moore made this film on location in Barboursville, Pt. Pleasant, and Huntington, West Virginia. An indie horror film, it tells the story of a young man who inherits a family farm in Carter County, West Virginia. He returns with college friends to find a horror story. Brief nudity, violence. Access: Amazon, etc.


Dead Ends and New Dreams

25 mins.  1973  Case Western University   VHS and 16 MM

Norman Jordan is most famous for his museum in Ansted, West Virginia—African American Heritage Family Tree Museum. In his 20s, he lived in Cleveland and was a leading poet. He worked with Jules Dassin on his film,Up Tight! (Dassin was a very well known Hollywood activist director most famous for Never on Sunday and The Naked City). For many years he was the director of the youth camp at Camp Washington-Carver for the Division of Culture and History, and worked in Archives. He also called himself “Peter Jesus” for several years. He was recently included in the West Virginia Literary Map.  Access: West Virginia Library Commission.


Dental Farmer

15 mins.  2002.

Meet dental farmer Dr. Art Rybeck, a man who combines his passion for organic farming with dentistry in West Virginia (outside Wheeling). Rybeck sees no reason why anyone should go without dental care, so he has set up a second clinic in a farmhouse with a pay-as-you-wish policy. Directors Ellen Brodsky and Dunya Alwan follow this "radical" dentist as he works and ponders life. It's both entertaining for its peculiar subject matter and inspiring for Rybeck's vigor and good nature.  Access: $ 20.  Ellen Brodsky, 34 Sherman, St Cambridge, MA  02138-6732, (617) 547-2989, ellenbrodsky@comcast.net.


Elegy: The Life and Work of Breece D’J Pancake

10 mins.

College filmmaker Jason Freeman never heard of a local great writer until he was in college. This film combines footage from Russ Barbour’s earlier film and Freeman’s own images filmed around Milton, his hometown, and Pancake’s. Pinkney Benedict was an advisor on the film and read some of the excerpts. It was shown at the 2004 Roanoke Visions Film Festival and chosen to be part of the 2nd Rural Routes Film Festival held in New York City.  Access: Steve Fesenmaier, West Virginia Library Commission.


The Fifth String

81 mins.  American Film Partners International

Pocahontas County musician Dwight Diller and Clay County musician John Morris play two brothers who love old time music. Diller, the older brother, is a professor of music and folklore who returns to Appalachia for the funeral of his uncle who raised him. Trapped in the mountains, he embarks on a confrontation with a past he has tried to forget. Filmed on location in Philadelphia, Clay, and Pocahontas Counties.  Some locations in Pocahontas County include The Old Log Church, Moore’s Cabins on Jericho Road, the Marlinton Presbyterian Church, the Marlinton home of Wilma Wilson and Jamie Wilson Pitze, places in the Huntersville and Beaver Creek area, the county jail, the high school, and the radio station. A number of local people are included:  some of Pam Lund’s students, several local law enforcement deputies, Woody Schoolcraft, and others.  Access: Amazon, etc.


Harry Powers Murder Case

120 mins.  1984 

This is a filmed version of a local history play for the bicentennial of Harrison County.

Moundsville-Clarksburg native Davis Grubb based his classic novel on West Virginia's most famous mass murderer, Harry Powers, but used the name Harry Powell in his book. The story first hit the newspapers in Clarksburg back in Depression-era 1931 and soon hit nationally. Powers and his wife ran a grocery store just south of Clarksburg in Alta Vista. During his arrest police found trunks filled with love letters and the personal effects of one of his victims. Later they discovered 5 corpses—2 women and 3 children buried in a drainage ditch behind his garage. Upon further investigation, police found that Powers had served time in other states for defrauding widows. A police investigation found Powers had befriended 2 women under the name of Cornelius Pierson, a wealthy civil engineer. He first abducted Asta Eicher and her 3 children from their home in Park Ridge, Illinois. Powers reassured suspecting neighbors telling them that their children were in Europe. Dorothy Lemke of Northboro, Massachusetts was Powers’ last victim, because police had traced Cornelius Pierson to a Clarksburg Post Office Box.


Due to overcrowding, the trial was held in Moores' Opera House in downtown Clarksburg. It took a jury only 2 hours to find him guilty and sentence him to hang on March 18, 1932. Powers became known nationally as the "Bluebeard of Quiet Dell." There was also a biography published in the 30s about Harry Powers.  Access: West Virginia Library Commission has a copy on VHS.


Hearts of Glass: The Story of Blenko Handcraft

60 mins.  1998  Witek & Novak

Deborah Novak and Richard Witek directed this history in Milton, home of West Virginia’s famous glass company. A look at an immigrant's dream—which has become the last great American glass factory where all the work is done by hand—it traces the company's history through four generations of the Blenko family. Hot glass is a family obsession that began when William John Blenko emigrated from England during the gilded age of Stanford White and Louis Comfort Tiffany. In America, Blenko was a man of contradictions—both capitalist and socialist, worker and boss. Three times he tried to produce European-style stained glass, and three times he failed. At the age of 67, he tried one last time and found the elusive formula for radiant medieval ruby glass. His discovery was the start of a company whose rainbow of more than 1300 colors would circle the globe.  Access: Blenko Glass Company http://www.blenkoglass.com.


Inspired Folk: Outsider Art of West Virginia

57 mins.  2004  Augusta Heritage Center

Gerry Milnes examines the lifelong work of 10 exceptional West Virginia artists—their motivations, inspirations, obsessions, and worldviews. These are artists whose work is so unique that it makes us question all the ways we define art. To find answers the film takes the viewer deep into the artists’ creative spaces and their minds. The 10 artists were found in such unlikely places as prisons, senior centers, remote West Virginia hollows, and the streets of Baltimore. The art includes the work of a life in prison, a paranoid schizophrenic, a recluse chair maker, expressive wood carvers, an obsessive-compulsive collector, a racecar drive/artist, a junk sculptor, a believer in faith healing, and more. A nationally recognized authority on the subject helps put the work into the context of folk art in general and specifically outsider art. Co-produced by Mary Rayme.  Access: $25. Augusta Heritage Center, http://www.augustaheritage.com/store.html.


Jacob Young Videos

The following works by Jacob Young are available from http://www.dancingoutlaw.com. 

Amazing Delores, American Breakdown, Appalachian Junkumentary, Dancing Outlaw, Dancing Outlaw 2: Jesco Goes To Hollywood, Dr. No, Fleabag, Glitch In The System, Hammer On The Slammer, Holy Cow, Swami!, Point Man For God, Saturday Night In Babylon.


John Marshall: Citizen, Statesman, Jurist

57 mins.  2004  MotionMasters

Marshall University and the West Virginia Humanities Council produced this film about America’s greatest Chief Supreme Court Justice. It presents his life from his early days on the Virginia frontier to his death in Philadelphia in 1835 when the Liberty Bell cracked, ringing for the last time. Experts and descendants discuss the importance of his life’s work as the longest serving chief justice, emphasizing that it was he who made the Court the equal to the other branches of the federal government.  Access: A DVD copy was given to every West Virginia public library. It can be purchased from Marshall University’s Drinko Library, Stephanie Neal, 696-6397, neal@marshall.edu.


The Jolo Serpent Handlers

40  min.  1977  Karen Kramer 

New York City filmmaker Karen Kramer began her fruitful career with this film made in Jolo, McDowell County, West Virginia. In 1979 she returned to the state, showing the film to students at WVSU and to people in Jolo and Welch. She interviews several members of the church and shows church services involving the handling of snakes. Reference is also made to other signs from the Bible, including drinking poison and walking on fire. This film is considered to be the best film on the subject of several that were made in the 1970s, including The Holy Ghost People.  Access: Karen Kramer, Kramerkar@aol.com


Kilowatt Ours

64 mins.  Jeff Barrie

Jeff Barrie, director of  Arctic Quest (2001), traveled across the Southern East states looking at energy problems and solutions. He found that Americans are large users of energy, causing energy companies to use devastating mining techniques like mountaintop mining to maximize their efficiency. He also found that if Americans would conserve energy, this disastrous mining technique would not be necessary, and many other ills such as childhood asthma could be minimized.  Access: http://www.kilowattours.org.  


The King of Iron Town

Mickey Fisher

Indie filmmaker Fisher spent two years in post-production, finishing his tale about two brothers who live in Ironton, Ohio. They both enter a local Tough Man contest, only to discover that despite their differences, they still respect and love each other.  Access: http://www.leospride.com/.


The Last Hit

90 mins.  2003

Huntington filmmaker Mike Fitzgerald spent a decade improving his martial arts film set in the area. The star of the film is from El Salvador where the film was shown in spring 2004.  Access: Buddha House Productions, http://www.mtfitz.com.


The Legacy of King Coal

50 min.  History Channel

This film is a comprehensive chronicle of this vital industry, featuring extensive footage of coal mining through the years. There has been a long history of labor unrest that often pointed the way for other industries. Despite countless technological advances and safety features, it remains one of the most dangerous of man’s undertakings. In interviews labor leaders and coal company presidents offer insights into this vital industry, while industrial historians trace the impact of coal on the American economy.  Access: The History Channel Store, Item Number: AAE-40237, $ 24.95.


Leo Herron – Augusta Master Series

60 mins.  2005  Augusta Heritage Center

Barbour County musician “Fiddlin’” Leo Herron made his mark in West Virginia’s early country music radio days, playing fiddle and guitar in various bands over WMMN radio in Fairmont. In the 1990s Leo re-emerged at Augusta’s annual Fiddlers’ Reunion at Davis & Elkins College and delighting participants and other musicians with his considerable talent. Augusta filmmaker Gerry Milnes recorded a performance by Leo in 1997 that stands as the only known visual documentation of Herron’s music. That performance is available on this DVD along with rare audio recordings, historical photographs, biographical information, and three of Herron’s tunes played by apprentice fiddler Chris Haddox.


Litigating Disaster

58 mins.  2004  First Run Icarus Films

Twenty years ago, on December 3, 1984, the worst industrial accident in history took place in Bhopal, India. Thousands of people died immediately, and tens of thousands lives were seriously damaged. The ground water is still contaminated. Two decades latter the $470 million paid by Union Carbide has not been given to the victims and their families. An Indian-American lawyer presents his case in logical fashion, interviewing witness, showing evidence, and presenting proof that despite Union Carbide’s statements, the conditions in India were very different from that of its sister plant in South Charleston, West Virginia. The key scene was filmed in the Film Services office of West Virginia Library Commission at the State Cultural Center where Wally Shafer, director of safety for the South Charleston plant, looks at footage just filmed in Bhopal of their controls, and states that the ones in West Virginia were all computerized. Recently two Bhopal activists won the $100,000 Goldman Prize for Environmental Activism. A New York federal court will finally be hearing the claims of the victims.  Access: First Run/Icarus Films, http://www.frif.com/.


Love Is Not an Angry Thing

30 mins.   2004

West Virginia film director Greg Harpold and West Virginia playwright Dan Kehde have created another poignant film. This film is about violence by a high school boyfriend against his younger girlfriend. The violence increases until she is murdered. The world premiere took place at The South Charleston Museum in October 2004—Domestic Violence Month. Susan Hayden, West Virginia Library Commission adult services consultant, kicked off her statewide program to help selected public libraries combat domestic violence.  Access: Jaguar Educational, http://www.jaguared.com.


Mary Ingles, Indian Captive


Wayne Sourbeer directed this recreation of a famous story about Mary Ingles, made possible by a grant from Maidenform, Inc., originally broadcast as a television program by West Virginia Public Broadcasting with actresses Susan Williams and Janet Worthington. This is the story of Mary Draper Ingles' captivity and escape from Shawnee Indians in 1755. Includes narration, interviews, and dramatized segments.  Access: West Virginia Library Commission, 16 mm and VHS.


Mine Wars

55 mins.  2004  Bill Richardson      

Bill Richardson, director of last year’s excellent documentary on the Hatfields and McCoys (Feud) continues his investigation of local history with this look at the age of mine wars in Southern West Virginia, and their influence on American life. Using rare historical footage and letters written by participants, Richardson shows a positive view of the union struggle during this era, explaining what happened at the Matewan Massacre and the Battle of Blair Mountain. He interviews local experts, including Dr. Lon Savage, Dr. Fred Barkey, Dr. Stuart McGhee, Dr. Bailey, and Temple University labor historian Dr. Ken Fones-Wolf. They all describe well known events that have until now only been shown in film piecemeal.  See other West Virginia films, including Even the Heavens Weep, Matewan, and Smilin Sid (also by Bill Richardson).  Access: Bill Richardson, WVU Extension Office, Mingo County Courthouse, Room 3, Williamson, WV 25661, (304) 235-0370, e-mail brichard@wvu.edu.


Modern Marvels: Coal Mines

50 mins.  History Channel

Coal is an ancient source of energy. More than half our energy still comes from coal. West Virginia State University historian Dr. Stuart McGhee (who starred in Gary Simmons’ series, The Rock that Burns) talks about different ways that coal has been mined and how it is mined now. New techniques like mountaintop removal mining are shown. Appalachian activists talk about the many risks coal mining creates, including massive flooding of people’s homes and neighborhoods. Industry leaders state their own position on these complaints.  Access: History Channel,  $ 24.95, Product No: AAE-43704.


Modern Marvels: Engineering Disasters 5

50 mins.  2003   History Channel

Robert Gates' footage of the Buffalo Creek Disaster is used in this film about the aftermaths of deadly disasters. Also included is the Exxon Valdez oil spill. This film tries to answer the two big questions: what went wrong, and—more importantly—what did we learn from it? Visit the south coast of Louisiana, where a misplaced oil rig caused an entire lake to be sucked into a giant underground salt mine, taking 65 acres of land, a dozen barges, and (of course) the oil rig with it. Examine the tragic 1972 Buffalo Creek dam disaster when blatantly bad engineering led to a flood that killed 118 people in the rugged mountains of West Virginia. And revisit the Exxon Valdez disaster to unravel the chain of human and technological errors that made it inevitable.  Access: History Channel, $ 24.95, Item Number: AAE-43938.


Mucked: Man-made Disasters--Flash Floods in the Coalfields

52 mins.  2003  Omni Productions

Robert Gates (Bob) has been making films about the effects of stripmining since his first film, In Memory of the Land and People (1977). Earlier he produced All Shaken Up (1998), about the effects of blasting from mountaintop mining on to the homes of people in the Southern coalfields. This film shows the relationship between mountaintop removal coal mining, steep slope timbering, and the wave of major regional flash floods that began on July 8, 2001, in Southern West Virginia counties. Over 380,000 acres of land have been mined by this practice; valley fills have filled in 1,200 miles of streams (figures updated 9/04). Six major regional flash floods and the Liburn Disaster have resulted, as well as major impacts on 47 communities, 12,000 homes and businesses, and an estimated one billion dollars in damages. People have been killed in these floods.


Mucked was previewed at the Spring Fling conference for librarians in April 2002 and had its official world premiere in November 2003 at the Shepherdstown American Conservation Film Festival. An earlier version, Flood Stories, had its premiere at the Flooded Out Film Festival in October 2002. It won honorable mention in the investigative reporting category at EarthVision, an international environmental film festival in California. It was shown in 2004 by Santa Cruz public television. Mucked was also shown on WBGN in Pittsburgh during the Independent Filmmakers series November 16-20, 2003. Bob and journalist Penny Loeb (who did a US News story on MTR and is writing a book on it) frequently work together to document the impacts of mountaintop removal and logging in the state of West Virginia. The flooding section of Penny's website (http://www.wvcoalfield.com/flooding.htm) won second place in online reporting at the Society of Environmental Journalists 2003 awards (http://www.sej.org).  Penny has a column in November 2003 Blue Ridge Country magazine. Bob was re-elected president of the West Virginia Filmmakers Guild in October, 2004.  Access: (304) 342-2624, e-mail omni@ntelos.net.


Nightline – Mountaintop Removal Mining

25 mins.  ABC News

Ted Koppel explores the effects of mountaintop removal mining with opponent Larry Gibson and proponents. Gibson shows how the constant explosions have affected his remaining land, including the family cemetery. Proponents argue that the US needs more domestic energy from coal.  Access: West Virginia Library Commission.


One More Time: The Life and Music of Melvin Wine

2004   Augusta Heritage Center  CD-ROM and DVD 

Melvin Wine was born in 1909 and buried in 2003 at the mouth of Stouts Run, a hollow near Burnsville, in northern Braxton County. Hundreds of fiddlers learned about old-time mountain music from him during his 94 years. In 1991 he was honored as a National Heritage Fellow. For several years Gerald Milnes and Margo Blevin have worked on this project that includes four films—Melvin Wine: Old Time Music Maker; a film made on his porch at home; a Copen Community Center jam and dance; and Melvin’s last Augusta concert. The interactive CD-ROM contains many tunes, stories, photos, and biographical information. A tune can be slowed down or stopped to allow the viewer to study his playing and bowing techniques.  Access: Augusta Heritage Center, http://www.augustaheritage.com/store.html, $30.


A Principled Man: Rev. Leon Sullivan

57 mins.  2000  MotionMasters

Rev. Leon Sullivan is considered to be the most influential African-American leader after Martin L. King. He created the Sullivan Principles that were used to bring down the apartheid system in South Africa. He was the first African-American to serve on a board of a Fortune 500 corporation. He also founded the national Industrial Opportunity Centers (OICs). He was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia, and there is now a street named after him. Diana Sole of Charleston directed this award-winning film.  Access: Every public library in West Virginia was given a copy. You can purchase it from UC Berkeley Center for Media and Independent Learning, http://ucmedia.berkeley.edu/default.html.


The Righteous Remnant: Jewish Survival in Appalachia

50 mins. 

Maryanne Reed, who grew up in Beckley, West Virginia, directed this award winning film about how it was to grow up in a small Appalachian town being Jewish—also filmed in Charleston, West Virginia. Most of the eastern European Jewish immigrants who entered the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries settled into the burgeoning urban centers in the East and Midwest. Yet other Jewish Americans chose alternative living arrangements for themselves and their families. Some Jews, hearing about the opportunities in the "black diamond" mining and timbering industries, migrated across the Alleghenies into West Virginia. This film examines the history and present-day concerns of the small Jewish community in Beckley, West Virginia. The story of the Jewish citizens in Beckley is somewhat representative of the narratives of other small Jewish communities in the southern part of the state. When the West Virginia coal industry was booming, Jewish people came to the area and established businesses that supported the coal-based economy. When the coal industry suffered decline in the late 1950s and '60s, many Jewish families, along with their Gentile neighbors, left the state for economic opportunities in other parts of the country. Typically, young adult Jews did not return, in part for economic reasons, but also because of the cultural challenges they encountered as a matter of course in small Appalachian communities. For example, Conservative Jews found it difficult to purchase Kosher foods, find a Jewish member of the opposite sex, or obtain a suitable Jewish education for their children. West Virginia Jews migrated to large cities like Charleston, West Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio. Consequently, the Jewish population in the southern rural eastern counties declined dramatically after 1960. The film producer's great-grandfather, Simon Fox, and his family, were at one time the only Jewish family living in the small town of Davis in Tucker County. With no synagogue in the area, the Fox family attended a local church to experience a sense of religious community. The family never converted to Christianity, but they went to church in order to worship God in a corporate setting. Simon Fox and his family eventually left Davis because he wanted to find Jewish husbands for his daughters. The family settled in Akron, Ohio, where there was a significant Jewish population. Access: West Virginia Library Commission. http://are.as.wvu.edu/reed.htm has several copies.



58 mins. 

A young family left the crime-ridden city of Miami and settled in Tennessee to raise their two children free from violence. Or so they thought. On a sunny day on April 6, 1997, the Lillelid family met its death at the hands of a group of troubled teenagers from Kentucky. The Lillelids were Jehovah's Witnesses, fresh from a convention in Johnson City and anxious to win new converts for their faith. The teenagers were a group of outcasts from Pikeville, Kentucky, on the run after getting into trouble in their hometown. The Lillelids were kidnapped at a rest stop on Interstate 81 and taken to an isolated country road where they were shot. The father, Vidar Lillelid, a recent immigrant from Sweden, was shot first. After him came his wife Delfina, followed by their six-year-old daughter Tabitha and two-year-old son Peter. Only Peter survived, though he was blinded by a gunshot wound. The documentary tells the story of the killers, led by 18-year-old Natasha Cornett (a self-described "daughter of Satan"), who stole the Lillelid's van and headed for Mexico where she and her accomplices were caught at the border and returned to Tennessee. They were later convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole.  Access: http://www.sixthemovie.com/index.shtml.



55 mins.  2005  Appalshop

A documentary about the effects of the Martin County sludge flood in 2000, releasing 10 times more effluent into the environment than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The film focuses on the reactions of Martin County residents and Jack Spadaro, the long-time mine safety engineer who is now under threat from the Bush Administration for refusing to sign the official report on this disaster. Spadaro is a native West Virginian, working for more than 30 years on coal mine safety in West Virginia, most recently as director of the Mine and Health Safety Academy in Beckley, beginning his career as a mining engineer looking at the Buffalo Creek Disaster.  Access: Appalshop.


Stories from the Mines: How Immigrant Miners Changed America

57 mins.  2001  Films for the Humanities and Sciences

The first decades of the 20th century saw the rise of America to superpower status—ascendancy fueled in large measure by the social and industrial impact of anthracite coal mining in northeastern Pennsylvania. This meticulously researched program uses location footage, archival film, period photos, dramatizations, and academic commentary to examine the coming-of-age of American labor. The agitation and violent suppression that so characterized the times are vividly captured, as are the era’s larger-than-life personalities. Precedents including wage and child labor laws and the right to collective bargaining are set against the stark backdrop of immigrant miners savagely exploited by laissez-faire industrialists.  Access: Films for the Humanities & Science, (800) 257-5126.


Stranger With A Camera
58 min.  2000 Appalshop

Appalshop’s best film—shown at Sundance and on PBS. In 1967 Canadian filmmaker Hugh O'Connor visited the mountains of Central Appalachia to document poverty. A local landlord, who resented the presence of filmmakers on his property, shot and killed O'Connor, in part because of his anger over the media images of Appalachia that had become icons in the nation's War on Poverty. Filmmaker Elizabeth Barret, a native of Appalachia, uses O'Connor's death as a lens to explore the complex relationship between those who make films to promote social change and the people whose lives are represented in such media productions. Through first-person accounts of the killing and the perspective of three decades of reflection, Stranger With A Camera leads viewers on a quest for understanding—a quest that ultimately leads Barret to examine her own role as both a maker of media and a member of the Appalachian community she portrays.  Access: Appalshop.

Struggling to Survive

15 mins.  Appalachian Media Institute/Appalshop

Produced in the Summer of 2003 during Appalshop's Appalachian Media Institute, a community-media based training program for Eastern Kentucky youth ages 15-20. During the summer and fall of 2003, Mary Profitt, Dana Hall, and Ashley Potter conceptualized, shot, and edited this documentary video. In addition to Mary, Dana and Ashley, many other people helped make this video a reality, including everyone who sat down for an interview, Appalshop filmmakers and other employees who offered their advice and encouragement, and fellow Summer and Fall 2003 interns and the AMI trainers.


The youth were inspired to make this video when they learned about a Letcher County initiative to pass a living wage ordinance. They were surprised to learn that a city, county, or state could pass their own minimum wage law that overruled the federal one, and they were impressed by the fact that Letcher County, a small county in Eastern Kentucky where they all lived, was pursuing this idea. While still in the research phase, the youth talked to Carroll Smith, Letcher County's top elected official and a proponent of a living wage, to get a sense of the history of the proposed ordinance. But it wasn't until they spoke with Debbie Gibson, a single mother trying to raise two children on a low wage job, that they were convinced that this documentary had to be made.


After the original proposed ordinance failed in 1999, many of the members of the newly elected Fiscal Court, the decision-making body of Letcher County, ran their campaigns on a living wage platform. However, when the ordinance came up for a new vote last year, they succumbed to pressure from local business leaders and voted down the ordinance once again. Carroll Smith has vowed to continue making the successful passage of a Letcher County living wage ordinance a priority. For two years Debbie Gibson enjoyed a comfy job cleaning office buildings (with benefits), until early last year when she was cut to half time without benefits. At the time she appeared in the video she was looking for other work. Since then she has returned to her position as a cashier at the local grocery store, the same place she had worked for 15 years prior.


Struggling to Survive is a winner of the See Change Make Change contest held by http://www.YMDI.org, the first comprehensive Web portal for youth media distribution. High school students at Appalshop won a national award for this film about workers in Eastern Kentucky struggling to survive on minimum wage incomes. A Letcher County, Kentucky judge executive tries to institute a “living wage” of $7.50 for all workers.  Access: you can watch the film online at – http://www.mediathatmattersfest.org/mtm04/media/struggling_to_survive.php# or purchase a copy at Appalshop.


The Texture of Life: The Tusing Sisters of Branch Mountain

28 mins.  2003  Real Earth Productions 

Ray and Judy Schmitt present this portrait of two Hardy County, West Virginia Mennonite sisters—based on a short story by their niece Kathleen Sholl. Through narration she tells the story of her annual summer visits to the homeplace on Branch Mountain while growing up in the fifties. In 1972 the Smithsonian "discovered" the Tusing sisters and wrote an article on their weaving techniques and life outside the mainstream. They seldom left their two hundred-acre farm, not owning a car, and used little electricity except for a few light bulbs and a small radio. Music by West Virginia supergroup Gandydancer.  Access: Real Earth Productions, http://www.realearthproductions.com/.


Thoughts In The Presence of Fear

25 mins.  2005  Appalshop

Kentucky writer Wendell Berry reads his essay of the same name as scenes of Appalachian coalfields are shown. The images were captured by director Herb E. Smith throughout his 35 years as a filmmaker. The essay points to the violent consequences of the global economy and calls for a more locally based "peaceable economy.”  Berry wrote the essay in reaction to events of September 11, 2001.  James Caudill, Dirk Powell, Martha Scanlan, and Riley Baugus perform the musical score.  It is based on Jean Ritchie's Cool of the Day.


True Facts…In A Country Song

28 min.  1979  Burt/Chadwick

A rare look at the life of a West Virginia music family. The Lilly Brothers found fame in Boston and Japan, returning to West Virginia after a son's death. The true facts of an Appalachian family are revealed in their songs, including "Hide You in the Blood of Jesus," "Sailor Boy," "Come Early Morning," "Sitting on Top of the World,""We Shall Meet Again," "Gathering Shells From the Seashore" and "What Will I Leave Behind."  Access: PatchWork Films.


The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia

75 mins.  2002  Mercury Films

Directed by Canadian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal. An introduction to the work of renowned photographer Shelby Lee Adams. Born in Eastern Kentucky, Adams has devoted 30 years of his life to visiting and making portraits of families living in Appalachia, those who have been misrepresented in the media and derogatorily referred to as "hillbillies."  It delves into the controversy that surrounds Adams' work, with hot debate amongst the critics and revealing commentary from his friends and subjects. It makes us question the meaning of art itself, and along the way, we get to know both Adams and the extraordinary people who stand in front of his camera. Many of his photographs can be seen in the book and PBS series, The Appalachians.  Access: Amazon, New Video, etc. 


Weirton U.S.A.

28 mins.  1948  

A film about the history of Weirton, West Virginia. Mr. Weir is shown in the film standing overlooking the town named after him. The links to Canadian iron ore is also shown. In fact, the premiere of a film about the Canadian mines is shown having its world premiere with marching bands and klieg lights.  Access: West Virginia Library Commission.


Whispers from Space

105 mins.  1996  Facets

This "engagingly deadpan" (Dennis Harvey, Variety) documentary looks at UFO lore and one rather disreputable "researcher" in particular: Gray Barker, a self-stylized "expert" on strange phenomena, who not only didn't believe in Unidentified Flying Objects, but may have perpetrated a UFO-related hoax or two himself. Stills, home movies, location shooting and interviewees, ranging from Parker's surviving relatives to a former male lover, business associates, amateur sleuths and a local folklorist offer their insight into the man from rural West Virginia who specialized in the flying saucer trade. Ralph Coon, the director of music videos in LA, came to West Virginia to make this documentary. He worked extensively with Merle Moore who established the Gray Barker Collection at the Clarksburg-Harrison County Library. Both Moore and Steve Fesenmaier helped him make the film. It had its world premiere at the Spring West Virginia International Film Festival in Charleston in 1996. It was on the cover of Graffiti magazine.  Access: Facets Multimedia at facets.org, West Virginia Library Commission.


Win a Date with Tad Hamilton

95 mins.

Australian director Robert Luketic followed his hit romantic comedy, Legally Blonde (2001), with a tale about a good-hearted West Virginia teenager who wins a date with Hollywood heartthrob Tad Hamilton. Kate Bosworth, “the new Julia Roberts” (after starring in Blue Crush) plays Rosalee Futch. Josh Duhamel plays Tad. The story was set in Fraziers Bottom, Putnam County, but in fact some exterior scenes were filmed in Fayette County and elsewhere in West Virginia.  Access: Amazon, etc.


Wrath of God: Fire in the Hole! Mining Disasters

50 mins.  History Channel

It is one of the most dangerous, unforgiving jobs on earth. And despite decades of strict legislation and modern safety devices, mining can still turn deadly in an instant. Three of the worst mining disasters in history are explored. First is the December 5, 1907 explosion that claimed the lives of 175 men and boys in Monongah, West Virginia. Shock waves from the blast were felt eight miles away. Next is the Orient #2 disaster in West Frankfort, Illinois, where 119 miners died while working the last shift before Christmas. Both events took place in coalmines, which are particularly dangerous due to the presence of explosive methane gas. Last is the tale of survivors of the worst accident in the history of South African gold mining, when 177 men perished in a fire caused by a welder accidentally touching his torch to an acetylene cylinder.  Access: History Channel, Product No., Item Number: AAE-42617.


Wrong Turn

84 mins.  2003

A Canadian company produced this teenage horror film supposedly set in West Virginia. Eliza Dushku stars in this tale of young friends who are stranded on an isolated road after trying to take a short cut to get back to “civilization” to meet a deadline. Stan Winston, Oscar-winning special effects man, is one of the producers. The film was actually filmed in Ontario and caused a front-page controversy about the negative portrayal of West Virginians as inbreed, bloodthirsty monsters.  Access: Amazon, etc.




Additional AppLit Resources: 
Complete List of AppLit Pages on Film

Steve Fesenmaier's Annotated Bibliographies of West Virginia and Appalachian Films

See Also:

Appalachian Film and Television Topics
Dr. Stephen D. Mooney, Instructor, Department of English and Appalachian Studies Program, has compiled a list of film and television shows for his Appalachian Studies Classes at Virginia Tech, VA.   

Appalshop For a complete catalog, contact the Appalshop Marketing and Sales Office at 1-800-545-7467 or appalshopsales@appalshop.org.

Davenport Films and From the Brothers Grimm  
American versions of classic folk and fairy tales, many Appalachian.  Davenport has also made many other Appalachian films.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
, Huntington, WV

Press release from September 9, 2002, entitled “World premier screenings at Flooded Out Film Festival
All proceeds from Oct. 10 event go to flood victims”

West Virginia Film Makers Film Festival

Winning Festival Films, background information on the first festival, local history, links to sponsors, links to information on film such as The Griffin and the Minor Canon, The Night of the Hunter, Invasion of the Space Preachers, etc.


West Virginia Filmmakers Guild 

The West Virginia Filmmakers Guild was created in 1985 to provide networking and communication between West Virginia film and video makers and those interested in these crafts in West Virginia. Central to its mission is educating the public and promoting West Virginia filmmakers and their films to the public.

Created:  02/16/2005
Last Update: 12/04/2005 09:43:50 PM

 Links Checked:  02/16/2005